Posts Tagged ‘whisky’

Laphroaig Cask StrengthI hate being right, sometimes.

Last month, the Washington voters’ decision to put down the state-run liquor stores went into effect. Yesterday, we went to Costco—not the smartest move on the Friday before the Fourth of July, I’ll grant you—and I took the opportunity to cruise their “liquor aisle.” What I saw was sad, depressing, and infuriating. It was also totally predictable. I know this, because I predicted it.

First (and foremost, I’ll say), as a fan of single malt whisky, it was a desert. A massive aisle of liquor and only one single malt. A good one, as it turns out (Macallan), but it had been re-branded with the Costco Kirkland label and was $75/bottle. This told me that the days of going into my local liquor store, chatting with the staff, getting advice on varieties, and selecting from at least a dozen Islay single malts alone, were truly dead and buried. I was standing the Henry Ford version of Single Malt Hell: You can have any brand of whisky you want, as long as it’s ours. Our state-run liquor stores had variety in spades: 50 tequilas, 25 rums, and dozens of single malts from highland and low. Costco, Safeway, and their ilk carry perhaps 50 different types of liquor, period. Selection, and therefore choice, are gone.

As a fan of small businesses and keeping my local dollars in local hands, it was just another example of an abject failure by the voting public. Due to a particularly convoluted rhetoric, when we got rid of the small, neighborhood (state-run) liquor stores, we said that only big stores could sell liquor. As a result, there isn’t a small business in the state that can sell liquor. Only Costco, Safeway, and other giants with the requisite square footage are allowed to purvey liquor. (Ironically, those mega-stores dedicate less square footage to liquor than we originally had in the state-run stores.) So now, not only do my liquor dollars fail to fill state coffers, they often don’t even stay in the state, and they certainly don’t go to bolster small local business. And in smaller towns, you now may have to travel miles to find a store large enough. The law has some provisions for “specialty” stores, but I haven’t seen or heard of any yet.

Of course, the final part in this debacle is the state’s loss of revenue. We won’t know for a while if the taxes Costco and Safeway must now collect on liquor will offset the government’s loss, but I predict we’ll come up losing there, too, and remember that so far I’m 2 for 2. And though that bottle of vodka looks good at $29, it doesn’t look as good when you get to the checkout and find it also has $12 worth of taxes on it.

What was so bad about the government running our liquor stores?

  • We didn’t have choice? Balderdash; we certainly did, much more so than we do now.
  • We didn’t have competition? True, but competition also means prices will be as high as the market allows, which won’t necessarily be lower than it was. And, when you add up your total bill, your savings probably amount to a buck or two. I’d pay the extra to see my Laphroaig single malt back on the shelf!
  • The government shouldn’t be in the business of making money? Why the hell not? The public demands a lot from the government and as far as I’m concerned they can sell WA.GOV mousepads if it’ll help build a revenue stream to support essential services.

Overall, it’s a cock-up. We voted for it, and we got it, but it’s a cock-up.


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